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A Multidisciplinary Approach can Make Chennai’s 3rd Master Plan Sustainable

“A multidisciplinary approach that takes into account every citizen’s requirements for daily life and the ways to mitigate the risks of climate change is critical for sustainable urban development,” says Ms. Maanasa Sivashankar, a city planner and design expert who holds a Master of Science degree in Design and Urban ecologies from Parsons School of Design, New York.

Maanasa Sivashankar, Co-founder Peoples Design Co.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report minced no words while cautioning the governments across the world of the growing risks of climate change. ‘It is code red for humanity, the report warns. With the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) beginning the exercise of creating the city’s third master plan and inviting the public to share their opinion on what their aspirations are for their city, Ms. Maanasa, a city planner and design expert currently in New York, thinks that an integrated and multidisciplinary approach to city planning should be the way to go to equip Chennai to support the daily life of its residents and to mitigate the risks of cyclones, floods, and other natural disasters induced by climate change. Maanasa was born and brought up in Chennai and she has a deep passion for developing her own city to be sustainable and inclusive. Her experience of working with international organizations such as the World Bank and the Inter-Parliamentary Union in city planning showed her the importance of engaging citizens and residents as essential steps to make cities more resilient and sustainable through collective action.

Chennai’s third master plan is part of the Tamil Nadu Housing and Habitat Development Project (TNHHDP), a World Bank-financed initiative of the state government. This US$9 million project for the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority CMDA includes technical assistance from the World Bank involving a climate and disaster resilience study and geo-spatial mapping to feed into the Master Plan preparation process. “In the process of planning the city’s future, citizens are, as they must be, an integral part. Involving the public must go beyond being a mere formality,” Ms. Maanasa emphasizes.

Making participation engaging, inviting and continuous

The real challenge lies in ensuring that residents can provide their time and uninhibited opinions to the process of planning. With COVID-19 putting a strain on public participatory processes, we must envision using digital innovation and technology to reach out to more people. “There are likely to be more extreme climatic conditions and unpredictable natural disasters. While we cannot completely do away with the problem, city planners must ask questions like: ‘How do we account for everyone’s needs’, and ‘How can we ensure people can access and feel welcome in the solutions we make for them” she says.

Most recently, through her work as a consultant with the World Bank, Maanasa created a participatory design process to help make Haitian emergency evacuation shelters safe and welcoming. Undeterred by COVID-19 restrictions, Maanasa worked virtually to analyze shelter designs, led the literature review, and supported developing a virtual participatory workshop. She engaged a multidisciplinary group of experts, including behavioral scientists, Haitian government officials, and Haitian shelter users, to collaborate and contribute to design solutions. The participatory process led to deep insights on enabling safety and inclusion for all Haitians in evacuation shelters.

Chennai’s master plan gives the city a chance to plan for future disasters and the city’s envisioned growth. Currently, only 5 per cent area of the master plan looks at sustainable development models by using a holistic view of the demands and limitations. Maanasa’s inputs for Chennai’s third master plan are: “Beyond the sharing of ideas, Chennai’s master planning committee must devise design strategies on how the public’s priorities will be selected and how people will assist in that selection.”

City Designer Maanasa Sivashankar Co-founded Peoples Design Co. and can be contacted via email at peoplesdesigncollab@gmail.com.

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